Away From It All

I’m on holiday in South Africa at the moment, far away from the frenzied political world of Brexit, and that’s something of a relief. I have no real clue what’s going on, what the options are or how our agency should be preparing for different potential scenarios – if at all. Like most people, I suspect, I just want things to be sorted and life to revert to some sort of normality so it’s interesting being in a country used to uncertainty, upheaval and change with, potentially, more to come in the near future.

In South Africa, as in the UK, life goes along as normal. Just like the UK, there is a strong backbone of tourism supporting the economy alongside a resident population who want to eat and drink out as they have always done. On the face of it, not much has changed since we last came here a few years ago but underneath I sense a renewed feeling of optimism, hope and belief in the restaurant and leisure sector and evidence of increased investment.

One place that embodies this sense of positivity is Babylonstoren. Its website states: “Dating to 1692, the fortunes of this historic fruit and wine farm took a turn ten years ago when it fell under the gaze of former magazine editor Karen Roos. Her passion for the Cape Dutch style led to an authentic yet contemporary restoration that projects the farm into the future.”

There is a strong focus in our sector of providing customers with memorable and engaging experiences they want to share and talk about. This has always been the case but the rise of social media has brought this element of a brand’s offer much more to the fore. Babylonstoren is proof that providing such experiences encourages exceptional customer retention and loyalty.

Babylonstoren is a farm, garden and vineyard, all of which hit the senses from the moment you arrive. Ducks, chickens and donkeys run freely, bringing life and movement to the place. It is ever changing in colour, smell, feel and texture. Tours are run 365 days a year, twice a day, by gardeners who bring the history and background of this garden to life –especially to non-gardeners such as myself.

The venue has a greenhouse cafe and an award-winning restaurant, Babel. A few years ago Babylonstoren opened a wine-tasting barn, where a sample of three varieties of wine and half a colourful and tasty meat platter costs about £6. Again, the team was knowledgeable and enthusiastic and the whole environment was busy, colourful and lively. It was hard to leave. In fact, the venue has also added more rooms to the six (I think) it used to offer so guests really never have to leave!

Back to the website: “Above all, we’d like visitors to ground themselves again – to enjoy the mountains as much as we do, pick their own fruit and vegetables, play pétanque, swim in the farm dam, enjoy an hour in the spa, eat a simple, fresh dish at one of the restaurants, walk up the conical Babylonstoren Hill, await sunset with a glass of wine in hand and then slip in between sheets of crisp linen and drift away.”

Babylonstoren has also added a healing garden and scented garden, extended the shop, garden and car park and runs workshops. It has opened a shop selling products made from plants grown in its garden. It is the most awesome place and one I would return to year after year if I could. The whole experience stays in my memory long after I come home. Every single element seeps into my mind and body so I can vividly recall it when I want to have that feeling of restorative peace.

This is a farm where one person’s vision and determination has shone through. Roos has employed people who communicate that vision with passion and enthusiasm – and has continued to invest. The attention to detail is phenomenal and the quality of all produce is exceptional. There are surprises and discoveries everywhere. It all fits. It’s all aligned. Everything, new and old, has been thought through to create the experience Roos intended. It’s worth a visit just to walk, eat, listen and learn. I can’t recommend it highly enough!

Written by Ann Elliott.